Do Med Schools Care About Lab Grades

Last Updated on September 7, 2022 by Smile Ese

Do med schools care about lab grades? That’s a question that gets asked a lot. And, there is a lot of conflicting information out there about this topic. There are a few studies and surveys done over the years that shed light on how med schools view your lab grades, but we thought we’d do our own third party analysis just to see what we could uncover.

If your labs go on your transcript as their own entry with credits and a grade, then yes. Many schools have a lab grade that makes up part of your overall grade in the class (so you might get an A in the lab portion and a B+ in the class overall). In that case, it is only the overall that gets counted.

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What Do Medical Schools Look for in Applicants

Do you see the light at the end of the tunnel? Your undergrad career is coming to an end, and it’s time to start applying to med schools. Having done your research, you know where you’d like to apply. But what are med schools looking for in an applicant?

Here are the 14 things that the Medical School Adcoms want to see:

1. Grades

Yes, your grades are important. Along with your MCAT score, they often determine whether or not you’ll be offered a secondary application. The average GPA of students matriculating to med school in 2019-2020 was 3.73 (overall) and 3.66 (science). They also look for a trend of improving grades over your undergrad career. It will speak better of you if your freshman year was a disaster, but you were able to overcome that and improve over the next three years, than if it were the other way around and you started school with a stellar track and then slacked off as time progressed.

If your GPA is not in the 3.5+ range, take extra classes over the summer (and earn A’s), or consider a postbac program, rather than applying directly to med school.

2. MCAT score

This is the second part of that magical duo (along with your GPA) referred to as your “stats.” The average MCAT score for students matriculating to an MD program in the U.S. in 2019-20 was 511.5. A stellar MCAT score is particularly important if your GPA is below 3.5.

How do you get your MCAT up to this level? Practice, practice, practice!

When premed students take the MCAT with no preparation “just to see how they will do,” it is usually a recipe for disaster. Imagine your doctor deciding to do surgery on you without preparing, just to see how they will do. Pretty awful image, right? The reason for all this craziness is medical schools want students who are willing to prepare. So, think like a surgeon and imagine you are taking someone’s life in your hands.

Taking a prep course is a good first step, but you have to put in time outside of class as well. Set up a practice schedule for yourself that requires you to stay seated for at least two hours at a time, and gradually work your way up to longer stretches. The MCAT is a long test – 7.5 hours – and it’s hard. Train for it the way you would train for a marathon, by gradually increasing your endurance. Even if you do well on a practice test, continue to do more. There are many factors that can affect you on exam day, including nerves, fatigue, or simply a new environment. Knowing that you’ve practiced and prepared can help reduce these effects. Last but not least, prepare for the CARS (Critical Analysis and Reasoning) section. This tests your reasoning ability – an important part of medicine.

3. Choice of undergraduate college

Small liberal arts colleges vs. big-name-U? Where do you go? The answer depends on you. Will you thrive in a large and vibrant campus, or do better with smaller classes and more student-teacher interaction? Where are you more likely to get good grades and make connections with professors? Where will you feel supported and happy? A depressed student rarely does well in school.

4. Undergrad major

The best major is one that you will enjoy AND do well in. These two often go hand in hand since we like to study things we’re better at. Med schools accept people from all majors if they do well in their coursework, on their MCAT, and have a convincing story for the “Why medicine?” question. If you’re an econ major and all of your extracurricular activities revolve around business, it may be hard to justify your decision. However, if you had good clinical experiences, did research that you enjoyed and was meaningful to you, and participated in regular community outreach, then you are a strong candidate. Doing well in two fields of study makes you a stronger applicant and adds to the diversity and character of the med school. Schools often look for people with different backgrounds and perspectives. So, if you have a passion for a non-science major and think you can do the required premed coursework and do well on your MCAT, that is often a winning decision.

A minor is not acknowledged by med schools. Rather than taking a minor that may end up bringing your GPA down, use your electives to broaden your knowledge and discover new passions. While you don’t want to appear to be coasting through your senior year, an elective in film, music, or women’s studies may be good for both your GPA and your cultural awareness.

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5. Clinical experience

Shadowing as a premed is a good first step into the world of clinical experience, but it’s not enough to make you a strong candidate. It is passive and doesn’t help you develop any new skills. Shadowing may be a good way for you to decide what areas of medicine interest you, but then you need to look for a more active role through clinical experience. Just talking about the cool surgeries you observed is not going to make you stand out. Medical assisting, scribing, and patient education are ways to get hands-on experience.

Show a sense of commitment by staying in the position for a year or more. Adcoms look at length of an experience to get an idea of how dedicated you are. Two weeks in the summer won’t impress them. Sustained clinical exposure will also give you the ability to describe patient encounters in your essays and interviews. This will make you a more interesting and convincing candidate.

6. Community volunteering

This is considered a must-have by many medical schools, and for good reason. They want applicants who tend to put others’ welfare ahead of their own. Doctors give up a lot of personal time for the benefit of others. Take a look at your experiences so far. Have you been a selfless giver of your time? If not, what’s stopping you? You may feel too busy or too tired, but these are not good excuses. Med students, interns, and doctors are always busy and often tired, but they continue to push themselves.

If this is what you want, you need to push yourself as well. You may not know where to start. Ask yourself what you care most about in the world, what your passion is, what you value. Then find a volunteer activity that helps you fulfill these areas. It doesn’t have to be related to medicine, but it does have to involve those in need. In other words, tutoring a student in an upscale private school is not the same as tutoring a student in an inner-city school. And just like your clinical experience, it will have a stronger impact if you stay with it for a year or more.

7. Research experience

Doing research teaches doctors how to interpret results and look for errors in study design, which you will be doing a lot of in your future medical practice. Do you love lab research? If so, you may be able to get your name on a paper or poster and a great letter of rec from your lab chair. If research isn’t your thing, this may be difficult for you. That doesn’t mean that you can ignore this part of your application. Look around to see what kinds of projects are out there. Not all research takes place in a lab. The strongest research experience you can get is by doing an independent research project in an area that you find fascinating. Premed students do research on public health outcomes, hospital wait times, clinical therapies, and IT. Find a professor you like and ask to be assigned to a project. Most importantly, do research that sparks your curiosity and that you will enjoy writing about in your app and talking about in your interview.

8. Paid work

If you have to work during college, you will have to be even more organized and on top of things to get all of the components of your app together. However, your work can benefit you in the application process. If possible, find a position that gives you skills such as leadership or interpersonal communication, two very important qualities for physicians to possess. Describe the skills you gained while working. It takes a great deal of time management to work at a job, keep your GPA up, and prepare for med school at the same time. Physicians juggle their responsibilities all the time – be sure you describe your experience clearly.

9. Leadership

This is an important skill that’s often overlooked by applicants. As a physician, you will be leading a team of health professionals and guiding patients through difficult choices and options. You can start now by gaining the skills you will need to persuade, guide, and lead. You don’t have to be president of an organization to lead others. Some lead through teaching, coaching, or motivating others. Use your clinical experience, community volunteering, research, and paid work to hone your leadership skills. Say yes to leadership roles. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

10. Arts, athletics, and hobbies

These areas can show your strengths, including dedication, perseverance, a strong work ethic, and leadership, and can be used to get involved in the community, by coaching, teaching, or fundraising. Be sure to emphasize that while you get great personal satisfaction from participation in these activities, your passion is in using them as vehicles to help the community and to grow as a person. So if you’re a fifth-generation canoe-builder, an amateur birder, or a biointensive gardener, be sure to show how you’ve used this interest as a gateway to serving others, and your hobby will come across as supporting the complex person you are, not just as a fun activity.

11. Study or work abroad

These programs generally fall into two categories: semester abroad or volunteer experience in a developing nation. Either one will afford you valuable lessons, just by immersing yourself in another culture. A semester abroad will give you college credits and the chance to take interesting courses. Volunteering in a developing country will give you hands-on clinical experience.

If you love travel, can afford it, and feel that these experiences will give you valuable insights, go for it! But don’t worry if you can’t. The greatest thing that many applicants take away from their travel experiences is that they become more acutely aware of the similarities of all people, no matter where they’re from. You can develop this same awareness just by leaving your comfort zone, but not going so far from home. Look for rural and inner-city clinics in the U.S. to get the same, maybe even stronger, experiences.

12. Letters of recommendation

These can make or break your application. Start finding mentors early in your undergrad career, and put in some time with them. Be there for their office hours, ask to be their research assistant, volunteer for overtime, or just help when needed. Just because you get an “A” in their class doesn’t mean that a faculty member will write you an outstanding letter. Show them your dedication, compassion, and purpose, and your letter writer will probably find a way to mention it. It’s not enough to just tell them how badly you want to go to med school. You need to show them what it means to you. If you have a hard time convincing your mentor, you’ll never convince an Adcom.

You can request letters of recommendation from an employer or supervisor in a volunteer setting. Find someone who may have been impressed by your dedication or leadership skills. Remember that the number of letters you get isn’t nearly as important as the quality of those letters. Eight generic letters will be less helpful than three letters saying, “This is the best student I have ever worked with.”

13. Proof that you’re not a robot

This can be the hardest thing to show in your med school app, and is possibly the most crucial. You want the Adcom to see you as a person, rather than a set of numbers. Many applicants write their essays with a dispassionate voice, as if they are summarizing their resume for Wikipedia. Your personal statement shows who you are; you need to write it with emotion. A properly written personal statement lets the Adcom see beyond your stats, to the living, breathing future physician that you are. A perfectly crafted personal statement can put your application on the top of the accepted pile and help you get into medical school. It’s a good idea to start journaling early in your college years; you don’t have to use this material in your application, but your essay will be more genuine if you have practiced ahead of time. If writing about yourself still feels foreign to you, try reading a memoir of a doctor you admire. Some favorites are Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat, Atul Gawande’s Complications, and Kathy Magliato’s Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon.

14. Ability to thrive under pressure

Whether it’s a traditional interview, mini multiple interview (MMI), or some combination of the two, interview day is your chance to show the Adcoms what sets you apart from the pack. Be sure to get practice doing mock interviews before you are faced with the real deal. Schools are looking for people who can go into a stressful situation and still carry on a conversation. Show them you can smile and be engaged, even when you are feeling unsure about things. And remember, they expect you to check them out too. Use interview day to ask questions and get a feel for the school’s facilities and curriculum. To learn how to handle any questions they can throw at you, sign up for mock interviews here.

There are so many ways to stand out with your med school application. Chances are that you won’t be exceptional in all areas, so be sure to highlight those where you are, and downplay those where you aren’t. Med schools know that you’re human. They’re just looking for the most extraordinary humans for their program.

Craft a Stand-Out Medical School Application | The Princeton Review

Do Med Schools Care About Lab Grades

The 10 Biggest Myths About Getting into Medical School

All that really matters is acing your science classes. Medical schools will focus mostly on upper division courses taken as a junior and senior.

Medical schools look at every grade since high school, so not only are your science grades important, but so are your grades in every class you’ve taken. There’s no grade replacement for medical school, either, so any goof up will show up on your record.

If you’re required to take humanities, languages, or other non-science classes as part of your general education, you’ll have to work hard no matter how nauseating you find Victorian poetry or Picasso. Every grade on your record will count.

Since you’ll be studying science on the MCAT and during medical school, you should choose Biology as a major, to show medical schools that you’re up to the task of performing well in the sciences.

As long as you take the required science sequence (see below), then YOU CAN MAJOR IN ANY SUBJECT YOU WANT. Choosing a nontraditional major will help you stand out while applying to medical school. In fact, med schools love bragging about the diversity of their incoming class, including the diversity of the scholarly backgrounds of their students. Why accept another boring science major when they might accept an art history or drama major instead?

Studying the humanities or social sciences could reap major benefits for your writing and communication skills, and it might even improve your MCAT score (we’ll get to that later).

However, if you’re going to become a doctor, you should be a stellar science student, or at least have the drive to look like one. Medical schools will pay close attention to your grades in the required science sequence:

  • One year of biology with laboratory.
  • One year of general chemistry with laboratory.
  • One year of organic chemistry with laboratory.
  • One year of physics with laboratory.
  • One semester of biochemistry.
  • One semester of upper division biology (required by some med schools).
  • One year of college-level math (ideally including calculus).
  • All of your science and math grades get combined into a BCPM GPA (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Math), which most medical schools weigh slightly higher than overall GPA. You will review all of these science courses during medical school, but only in the first two or three weeks. As a result, you must prove that you already have the capacity to thrive in these subjects.


The MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) is like the SAT of medical school admissions, but much longer and more challenging. It tests biology, chemistry, physics, verbal reasoning, and writing ability. Most pre-meds take it during their junior year of college.

The MCAT reflects the advanced material you’ll learn in medical school, so you should take the most challenging science courses offered by your college as a way to prepare.

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The required sequence listed above is the only science tested on the MCAT. So once you complete that, you’ve taken all the science you need.

Three quarters of the test consists of reading comprehension passages that use science as their subject matter. Reading comprehension? Yep, and lots of it! Turns out those humanities classes will come in handy after all. The more you read, the better you’re likely to perform.

Yeah yeah, okay, so you should read more. That’s all fine and good. But what grades and MCAT do you need to be accepted?

High scores alone don’t get you into medical school, but low numbers can definitely keep you out. It doesn’t matter if you did research on Jupiter–if you have a 2.7 GPA in college, you’re not going to medical school. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has plenty of information about application and acceptance rates to medical school.

One of the most interesting pieces is a chart of average GPAs and MCAT scores, divided by undergraduate major for those who apply and those who get accepted. Go to, then click “Data and Analysis,” then click on “Applicants and Matriculants” data.

Okay… so everyone needs to have solid numbers. But you should want those anyway, if only for the knowledge and gained skills they represent. Here’s the point: if you’re a truly competitive candidate, then these scores are merely an expectation–perhaps even part of your identity.

But let’s forget the quantitative for a second, and move to the qualitative, where you really have a chance to shine. The remaining myths on our list give you the opportunity to differentiate yourself from other candidates and flesh out your application with genuine personality.

You should take any and every research experience you can, especially if it takes up a ton of hours and gets you a letter of recommendation. The more complex and prestigious sounding, the better. Medical schools only care to see whether you’re smart enough and have enough attention to detail to be a doctor.

You should find the research projects that make you the most enthusiastic. If you take anything you can get, you’ll end up going through the motions like every other pre-med who seeks out research for the sake of it. It will be challenging to sound excited when writing or talking about your work. In short, you’re not going to stand out.

Oppositely, you’ll win over the admissions committee by communicating your genuine fascination with the research. You want to give the impression that you’d perform the research, regardless, even if they didn’t care about it. Your curiosity, not your sense of competition, is what should be driving you.

When the time comes, you should make a list of the best professors from your most challenging classes and ask them to write letters on your behalf.

At a large school, the professors often forget past students. Yep, they might even forget YOU. If it’s a smaller school, the professor can still only comment on one semester’s worth of your work. Plus, they will probably repeat what medical schools already know from your transcript.

You should choose recommenders during your first or second year. Visit those professors during office hours and get to know them personally. Look into their research and inquire about work in their labs. Participate frequently in their classes and ask intelligent questions. Take them for as many sequenced courses as possible.

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Med School Admission: Pitfalls and Myths

For half a dozen years after 1965 American medical schools were concerned by a slow ominously steady decline in the number of medical school applicants.

In 1962, however, this trend sharply reversed itself; and the number of men and women competing for one of the 8800 places available in the nation’s approximately 90 accredited medical schools is expected to rise indefinitely, despite a slight sag in the applicant curve this year.

It is plainly a buyer’s market for medical school admissions committees.

And because of the mystery of the process and the natural anxiety surrounding such a pivotal step in one’s life, various myths, shibboleths, tutor’s tales, halftruths and vast amounts of sage advice on how to finesse one’s way through the medical school portals of one’s choice circulate in dining halls, corridors, bachelor’s corners at mixers, and any other places where premeds are apt to congregate.

Many of these bits of advice are patently false; others contain considerably more than a grain of truth. The following are a few of the more prevalent rumors and what students and officials at medical schools along the eastern seaboard had to say concerning them.

Organic Chemistry

Perhaps the greatest speculation concerns The Legend of Organic Chemistry. Much is said about how important a good grade in “organic” is, and horrible tales are told of grade-grubbing souls who audit lectures the year before they take the course and sabotage labs in the hopes of scrambling up the Almighty Curve over the bodies of fallen brethren.

Once upon a time before the revolution in molecular biology and while we were little more than undeveloped oogoniums rattling around some place, organic chemistry was indeed a most crucial subject for premeds. It reflected to a great extent the material that had to be mastered in medical schools. But since then, medical school curriculum has undergone fundamental transformations. Inertia is itself a fundamental element of any change, however, and it seems to have sustained over the years an overblown emphasis on organic chemistry, especially among undergraduates.

Admissions committees savor good grades in science, and there is no denying that an honor grade in organic chemistry leaves a pleasant taste in their mouths. (Although one doctor claims that “A” students in organic “worry” him, unfortunately he is an exception). These committees, however, are no more titillated by an honors performance in this subject than they are by similar success in any other moderately challenging science course.

Medical school officials patiently explain that the goal of today’s medical education is to form an understanding of modern biochemistry, which more and more demands quantitative ability. Hence, emphasis shifting from formulas to mechanics.

Admissions people are impressed with a regal straight A in organic; but they are enchanted with a common B-plus in a stiff mathematics course; and they are orgastic over a vulgar C-minus in physical chemistry.

Indeed, it would be much more realistic to bestow to mathematics and “p-chem” all the attention now lavished on organic chemistry.

Some students seek to mitigate the trauma of organic chemistry by taking it in summer when it is supposedly easier. (It is not so, incidently, unless you thrive on two hours of class and six of lab every day). One can also spread the load, splitting lectures and laboratories, making it less difficult to receive an honor grade.

Medical schools do not mind such practices, but they do want to know why a student went about taking the course in this manner. The members of admissions committees are quite wise to the ways of the world, and patent attempts to build up med school brownie points are usually detected with an eye as jaundiced as it is sharp.

In recent years medical schools have been stressing the need for proficiency in the sciences. Some medical school rejects rationalize their fate, ascribing it to the fact that they were not science majors. All this helped perpetuate the myth that science majors have a considerable advantage in the competition.

Interestingly enough, one often hears the opposite contention. This theory rests on the idea that medical schools have recently become “enlightened” and that in this new area science majors are viewed with some disdain as lacking the breadth, warmth, and empathy of humanities concentrators.

In the first place, new medicines and methods of treatment require a high degree of scientific sophistication on the part of their users. One does not, of course, have to have majored in the sciences to have the necessary grasp of them.

But if a non-science concentrator who has taken the minimum of science requirements has a lacklustre record, sprinkled with a D or two, and a poor scientific Medical Aptitude Test score, he can hardly expect a school to have confidence in his ability to do science. Students in these straits should not be surprised by rejection notices.

This unhappy prognosis, however, might well be changed by a simple dose of preventative medicine: take more science–it will kill you or cure you.

Regarding less marginal non-science majors, suffice it to say that not a single non-science major at Harvard whose grades in science were on a C level, with evidence that he could do quantitative work on the level of Math 1 and Physics 1, failed to be offered a place in medical school last year.

Furthermore, concerning any statistics about the relative success of science and non-science majors, each case is scrutinized so exhaustively on its own merits that these figures have no effect on any individual decisions.

In short, the rumor that medical schools either downgrade non-science majors or are overawed by “Renaissance men” is absolutely false.

Caveat Wonk?

Comments often float around to the effect that “wonks” or “grinds” will “get theirs” when medical school application time rolls around.

Exactly what the term “wonk” signifies, of course varies with who uses the word; it can denote anything from all those who got a better grade on the last hour exam than the speaker to a bonafide anal compulsive bookworm. Generally speaking, the term applies to a sort of drab toiler of limited cosmic vision, whose main concern in life is his academic grade average.

It must be remembered that medical schools are faced with a large number of superior people. If all work and no play really does foster an aphasic dullness, students might do well to ponder the words of one medical school dean who remarked, “The unexciting person will definitely have a more difficult time getting admitted in the coming years.” On the other hand, for those students at the other polar extreme, there is very little play in medical school. The moral, Neither an ant nor a grasshopper be.

Shrink Shy?

Another much circulated tip is aimed at those interested in psychiatry. Such students, the word is, should not evince any interest in the subject within earshot of medical school walls because schools shy away from their kind on the general principle that “it takes one to know one.” What to tell them, this tale continues, is that you are unsure but lean towards “research.”

When asked about this rumor, most medical school officials asserted that this was not true at their particular institution, but several agreed that there was some substance to this claim of discrimination.,

There is a strange dualistic attitude psychiatry and psychiatrists on the part of certain persons, some M.D.’s included, which is reminiscent of the medieval outlook on Church and clergy. At no time was anticlericalism so rampant as in the Age of Faith. Analagously, some physicians have the greatest respect for psychiatry and would not hesitate to refer patients to psychiatrists; yet in their hearts they view psychiatrists with a certain mistrust and professional disdain.

Psychiatrists themselves, obviously, have interesting things to say about such colleagues, but the situation does exist.

In a more concrete realm than these sentiments, experience has shown many medical schools that some students with the avowed goal of psychiatry sometimes tend to downgrade their basic science courses. This is a genuine handicap, to a student, who must master the basics no matter what his specialty may be.

There is nothing sinister about an interest in the human mind, and students have little to fear about being frank about an interest in psychiatry, provided they demonstrate that psychiatry for them is an interest–not an obsession–and that their minds are open to knowledge not immediately concerned with this specialty.

Admission myths: how they impact student diversity - MD Undergrad  Education, UBC Faculty of Medicine


There is another factor also: the attitude of medical schools towards applicants who have themselves had treatment. Many schools ask outright on their application forms. What effect this has on a student’s chances varies with the school; but nowhere, certainly, does a record of psychiatric consultation help a candidate.

It is only common sense that their records are especially scoured. Also, such students are usually required to have a little chat with the medical school psychiatrist, and sometimes resentment is exhibited against what is considered to be an invasion of privacy. As a result suspicions are reinforced, and the medical schools shy away.

What line of action to take on this problem must be chosen by the student involved. However, the University Health Services emphasize that no psychiatric information is given out to any medical school, and students who feel they need help should have no qualms on this score. Rather, as one doctor put it, “It’s those who haven’t done anything about their problems who are the real dead ducks.”

Students who have taken a leave of absence for a year or more because of personal problems should also be ready to explain their situation to medical schools.

Dr. Daniel H. Funkenstein, assistant professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who has conducted much research on medical school admissions, has found that if such students return and do well academically, demonstrating their ability to do science, and if their recom- menders emphasize the “new man,” they usually gain admission. For those who have taken all of their premedical requirements before they left, he recommends that at least one more science course be taken after returning to demonstrate ability in this area.

Financing School

One essential aspect of a medical education which some prospective students do not consider seriously enough is money.

“When you ask some of these fellows how they prospose to finance their education, they mumble blandly about ‘scholarship’ and ‘loans,’ or say they haven’t really considered it yet, but they’re confident that ‘some way’ will be found to meet the costs,” one official complained. “We don’t feel that this is the attitude of someone who has considered the problem in a mature fashion,” he added.

There are multitudinous demands on medical school funds. For this reason the bulk of their scholarship aid is reserved for upperclassmen, so freshmen must find funds from some other resources.

Despite all the pitfalls outlined above and the stringent standards of American medical schools, Harvard graduates have been outstandingly successful in getting into medical school. An average 95 per cent of Harvard applicants per class are admitted.

Last year, however, something seemed to go awry. Although about 180 seniors secured a place in medical school, some 25 from the bumper premed crop were rejected.

How to Attend Medical School for Free | Top Medical Schools | US News

Why Students Are Refused

Dr. Funkenstein has since interviewed these students and has formulated several reasons why some students are not admitted to medical schools.

One reason is the failure to apply to medical schools where students have a reasonable chance of acceptance. Admissions directors unanimously delight in saying that all medical schools in the United States are Grade A. Nevertheless, as any student knows, there is more than one way to get an A, and some schools are naturally more reknown than others.

Prestige schools are understandably a desirable goal. After all, prestige is but a measure of what the world has learned about an institution.

But for those interested in prestige, a much more important factor to a medical career is the hospital in which a doctor takes his residency. As a matter of fact, in order to advance in the academic branched of medicine, a doctor needs to have taken his residency in a University hospital. Anyone who does well in any medical school has reasonable hopes for such a residency. If a graduate has done poorly in a prestige school, he is not apt to gain such a residency.

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